Facilitation Antipattern: Dominator

Posted by Doc
Feb 15 2009

dominatorMotto: It’s all about me!
Belief: I have a lot to say, it’s important, and so I’m justified in taking the time and attention to say it.
Behavior: Turns the discussion to whatever is important to him.  Talks loudly, forcing his way into any discussion, and then turning it again.
Characteristics: Loud, forceful, relentless, determined, sincere, focused.

The Dominator dominates. Obvious, eh?

What’s not so obvious is that Dominators are not always egocentric or glory loving or outgoing. Frequently, Dominators have learned that the only way that they can get people to hear what they have to say, and to make their points, is by steamrolling everyone else. Outside of meetings/discussions, they may be timid or quiet. but get them into a meeting, and they will just take over.

Okay – there are also Dominators who do it because they do love to be the center of everyone’s attention. For these Dominators – the ones you probably thought of first – it’s not so much which point they make as that they make a point by overwhelming everyone else’s defenses. Their joy comes from the act and experience of being dominant.

Dominators have found that if they speak more loudly than everyone else, everyone else will be quiet and listen to them.

Dominators have found that by the force of their presence (similar to the Gladiator) they can achieve their goals.  But distinct from the Gladiator, the Dominator doesn’t want us to fight back. The Dominator achieves victory by shutting everyone else down.

The Dominator is happy when we say “Okay – whatever you say” as a sign of capitulation.  They’re happiest when we say “Oh, you’re SO right!” as a sign of recognition of their rightness, along with capitulation.

To deal with a Dominator, you have to break their pattern. This is hard, because they’re relentless.

Techniques that either involve the group without discussion (Starfish, Timeline) or that enforce a structure that gives everyone equal time and attention (Circle of Questions, The Margolis Wheel).

Note that Robert Chambers, in Participatory Workshops: A Sourcebook of 21 Sets of Ideas and Activities, has an exercise he calls Dominator (pages 168-9), which he describes thus: “A lively activity to heighten awareness of verbal and non-verbal dominant and submissive behaviour and of the effects of physical position on relationships.”

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